By Oon Yeoh
Malaysians are not particularly known to be successful book authors. We’ve had a few locals who’ve made it big – Tash Aw being the most obvious one that come to mind – but how many other local authors can you name?
If you go to a typical bookstore you might find half a bookcase of books by local authors. That’s all – half a bookcase in the entire store! You can’t really blame the retailers though. There are simply not that many locally-published authors.
A big part of that has to do with the high cost of traditional publishing. As a result of that high cost, established publishing houses will not want to take a risk with first-timers. It’s a classic vicious cycle situation. Aspiring authors can’t get a publishing contract because they’ve never been published before. But how can they get their first book published without a publishing contract?
It’s not easy to break that vicious cycle. The good news is that you don’t have to be concerned about that vicious cycle if you’re willing to consider e-book publishing.
The cost of publishing an e-book is remarkably lower than traditional publishing because there is no paper involved. That doesn’t mean there’s no cost. You’d still need an editor, a proof-reader, a graphic designer and maybe even an illustrator or photographer, depending on the type of pictures you want to incorporate into your e-book. But without print, a big cost has been unloaded.
With e-books, you can self-publish and sell your e-books locally through your own website or through an aggregator like MPH Online. To get onto there, just go to MPH Digital and follow the procedures outlined in the site.
You can also sell through Amazon.com’s Kindle service, which supports self-publishers. Although that service is not yet available to Malaysian readers it’s available to be used as a selling platform by Malaysian authors. It’s rather simple. You just have to submit your manuscript (MS Word document is fine) and Amazon.com will convert the book into Kindle format for you.
There’s also Smashwords, which is a leading e-book distributor. Unlike Amazon though, Smashwords requires you to do some rather complex formatting of your MS Word document before it accepts your work. Still, it’s not rocket science we’re talking about.
In the old days, even if you had a print book contract, there’s almost zero chance of you selling the book overseas. That’s because the local distributors only handle stores within the country. At most they might deliver some stock to Singapore.
But with e-books your publication is instantly global. Although MPH Online is a local company, its e-books can be bought and downloaded from anywhere around the world. On top of that, MPH also has an e-book distribution deal with a Western aggregator that will make its e-books available to more than 50 online vendors from around the world. And of course if you publish your e-book through Amazon’s Kindle or Smashwords, you would have access to their customers from around the world.
So, with e-books the challenge is no longer about market access. Both locally and globally, if you want to get your e-book out there, you can. The challenges are in producing a quality e-book that people would want to buy and in marketing that e-book so that people know about it in the first place.
In the US, e-books have taken off in a big way. Already, Amazon.com sells more e-books than printed books. The Pew Internet Research Center recently released a finding that shows the number of people in the US reading e-books is indeed growing, while print reading is declining.
It will take some time for that cultural shift to happen here but it’s a wave that’s coming. Printed books might be the proverbial “last man standing” among content types but soon it will join music and movies in riding the digital wave.
So, if you have a book in you that you want to get out, don’t dwell on how to get it published in print format. That’s too much of a hassle. Join the e-book revolution instead.
Oon Yeoh is a new media consultant. He is also a senior consulting editor at MPH Publishing and a senior business development manager at MPH Digital.